Belfast Telegraph

County Antrim Shield: There's mounting pressure on all of us, says Crusaders boss Baxter

Linfield are hungry to win trophies again but the Crues will also feel big game heat

By Graham Luney

Stephen Baxter doesn't believe there is more pressure on Linfield than his Crusaders side going into tonight's County Antrim Shield decider. Linfield boss David Healy desperately wants to win his first trophy as Blues supremo after falling at the final hurdle in both this competition and the Irish Cup last season.

The Windsor Park side may be the Irish League's most successful club but their trophy-winning heroics have slowed down, with a Shield success in the 2013-14 season - after a penalty shoot-out win over Crusaders - their last taste of silverware.

That battle was David Jeffrey's last final in charge of the Blues but his successor Warren Feeney was unable to get his hands on a trophy and Healy is awaiting his first night of glory.

More: It's crucial the Blues keep cool heads, says Waterworth

Crues chief Baxter, a two-time title winner with Linfield, understands the demands and expectations that exist at Windsor but he refuses to accept there is more heat on the boys from south Belfast when the first whistle sounds at the Ballymena Showgrounds tonight (7.45pm).

"There's pressure on all of us in this game," said Baxter.

"There is pressure on players and management to get it right. Everyone wants to do their best and football at this level is pressure and it's sometimes how you deal with all that that can be very important.

"I don't think there is extra pressure on either team.

"It's also very hard to say if this game will have any impact on the league title race as cup games are cup games and you don't know what you are going to get.

"PSNI gave us a fantastic test in the Irish Cup at the weekend and you have to deal with that.

"There are far too many league games left to go (11) and it all looks after itself. I'm not convinced we will have a psychological edge in the title race if we win this one.

"If we lose the game will Linfield have a psychological edge? I don't think so. There are too many games to play and we will be focused on every one of them."

The two Premiership giants are also on a collision course in the Tennent's Irish Cup as the quarter-final draw pitted them together but while the Shield is not considered local football's most alluring prize, the opportunity to conquer a fierce rival in a final is one to relish.

"It's a big final," admitted Baxter.

"It's also against Linfield and they don't come much bigger than that. The two teams will go head to head and the games have been tight. In fact, ultra tight between the two clubs and both sides are fighting hard at the top of the table.

"It's a one-off game and it won't be the end of the world if we lose it but of course we want to win it.

"They beat us on penalty kicks in a Shield final at Ballymena and they won it after a bit of a stalemate. In the last three or four years we have done particularly well against Linfield and it's clear neither side will be frightened of the other. We can talk about previous encounters but those games don't matter a jot.

"You have got to push on and try to win the games in front of you. You never play the games on yesteryear. Tuesday's game is the important one."

The final was scheduled for Seaview, the home of Crusaders, but Linfield appealed that decision and the game has been switched to the Ballymena Showgrounds.

"Ballymena has a good grass surface and lovely stadium and it's easy from our point of view," added Baxter. "It's 30 minutes up the road. You could play this one in London and call it a home game!"

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